Torgos – Lappet-faced vulture

The African giant vulture has a wingspan up to 2.80 m (9 ft) wide  

This large bird of prey can easily be distinguished by the distinctive lappets, or fleshy folds of skin, that hang on either side of its neck, which are more pronounced in adults and contribute to its name.

With a wingspan reaching up to 2.9 meters (9.5 feet), the Lappet-faced Vulture is one of the largest vultures in Africa. Its bulky body, powerful beak, and large, strong talons make it a formidable presence on any carcass. The bird’s featherless head and neck, which may appear in shades from pink to reddish-purple, are not just for show; this bare skin is a hygienic adaptation. It prevents feathers from becoming matted with blood and other substances when the vulture feeds on carrion, which would otherwise be difficult to clean and could harbor bacteria.

The Lappet-faced Vulture’s reputation at carcass sites is that of a bully. It dominates over other vulture species, using its size and strength to take charge of the best feeding spots. Its powerful beak is capable of tearing through tough skin, tendons, and ligaments of carcasses, allowing it access to parts of the prey that other scavengers cannot reach. This dominance is not only a display of power but also a critical ecological function, as it ensures the complete breakdown of carcasses.

Diet-wise, the Lappet-faced Vulture is an opportunistic feeder and exhibits a wide range of dietary habits. While they prefer carrion and are often seen at the site of dead animals, they are also known to hunt live prey, including fish, reptiles, and small mammals. Furthermore, they do not shy away from raiding nests for eggs or even newborns, as their diet can occasionally include the likes of flamingo eggs.

Contrary to the common perception of vultures relying on a keen sense of smell to find food, the Lappet-faced Vulture depends on its excellent eyesight to locate meals. It soars at high altitudes, scanning vast stretches of the savannah for signs of a feast. When one is spotted, their descent to the ground is swift and determined.